How The Advocate went from $0 to $1M in branded content revenue
"Why has it become one of the go-to features for our sellers," asked Robert Young, VP digital solutions for Georges Media Group. "I think a lot of it comes down to finding the right people and then empowering them with a solution that's easy for the advertiser to understand."
Georges Media Group is a locally-owned company that covers all of Louisiana with four daily editions including The Advocate, The Times-Picayune, The Acadiana Advocate, Nola.com, and the brand new digital-only The Shreveport-Bossier City Advocate.
Young, along with Branded Content Specialist Amanda McElfresh, joined the Branded Content Project's Big Branded Call in Sept., explaining how they believe the organization has built a successful branded content initiative from nothing to over $1M in revenue in 3.5 years.
"We're fortunate enough to have an ownership group that when it makes a commitment to try something, invests in it," Young said.
One of those investments was Amanda McElfresh, who has a news reporting background that guides her when creating compelling storytelling-style sponsored content.
As we've seen across the board, the COVID-19 pandemic spurred a new approach for small and medium businesses that wanted to get important information to the masses. Blue Cross Blue Shield Health System understood this and reached out to the news organization to create educational content during the pandemic. This laid the groundwork for a branded content strategy that soon took off when other businesses took notice.
"Having a large client right off the bat, wanting to be invested in branded content really was a good example for other businesses, and it was also a time when they wanted to get their stories out, so it just grew and grew," McElfresh said.
Georges Media Group has found particular success creating content campaigns in healthcare, higher education, tourism and finance. They keep their process streamlined by offering one service, a digital-first play with a reverse publish to print. McElfresh writes the content, eliminating a client's tendency to draw out the approval process due to staffing or other obstacles. It makes for a smoother experience for all involved.
"One of the biggest tips I can give you right up from the start is build your pricing for you to write it, and never deviate from that because once reps learn they can get a discount by having the client submit it, they will do that more and more often and you will very quickly watch your revenue flow decrease," Young advised.
Young and McElfresh highlighted several branded content campaigns that left the advertisers pleased and ready for more, including a campaign sponsored by Hancock Whitney bank called She Is. Launching on Mother's Day, the campaign celebrated women from different walks of life and their accomplishments with a video and article package.
"This is a great example of how branded content was intended to be, because nowhere in this do you see anything about Hancock Whitney, about come bank with us or these are our CD rates or anything like that," McElfresh said. "It is strictly about putting their name and their logo with successful women and just having that positive association."
Not having a large production staff has not limited the team's ability to turn around branded content campaigns. They have one person on staff who shoots videos (and are looking to hire another for their New Orleans market), and McElfresh interviews clients and writes the content. They keep their process streamlined across markets with the same offerings and deliverables, and make sure reps understand branded content is meant for broad awareness.
In another example shared with the group, McElfresh described how they created a campaign revolving around Lafayette's bicentennial celebration. Working with the city and its tourism office, they highlighted the institutions that speak to Layfayette's diverse, rich history - including a spotlight on a little known Native American tribe.
"This is one that did really well," McElfresh remarked. "I think it was educational for a lot of people as well as interesting."
Cajun healers, a Greek & Lebanese market, and the African-American music scene were just some of the topics the campaign shone a light on. They've had a lot of success with the Layfette Tourism Office, even though that is their smallest market. Highlighting important organizations and people doing remarkable things is a great formula for engaging branded content.
Getting started creating content for advertisers can be overwhelming, but there are things you can do to make things easier on yourself and your organization. McElfresh recommends being an active listener, to not take feedback personally, to own the process and remain flexible.
Want to join us on our next Big Branded Call? Sign up here!
The Meta Branded Content Project is designed through a strategic partnership between the Local Media Association, the Local Media Consortium, and the Meta Journalism Project to help facilitate additional growth, engagement, and revenue success for more publishers of all shapes and sizes.